The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has announced that it has acquired the personal archive of civil rights activist, entertainer, and producer Harry Belafonte.
Acquired with support from the Andrew W. Mellon, Ford, and Open Society foundations, Danny and Manizeh Rimer, and the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, the collection includes four hundred linear feet of audiovisual materials, personal and professional papers, television scripts, and photo albums chronicling the entertainer's life, activism, and career, from 1949 to the present. Highlights of the collection include Belafonte's first recording, a 1949 acetate pressing that contains "Lean On Me"; scrapbooks of his press coverage from the 1940s, including performances in the Schomburg Center's American Negro Theatre; papers and notes documenting his efforts in support of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., including the 1963 March on Washington; scripts of movies produced by and starring Belafonte; and cue cards with the lyrics of "We Are the World," the signature celebrity charity effort of the 1980s, which Belafonte inspired and produced. Processing of the collection will be expedited, and items will be available to researchers in approximately fifteen months.
Belafonte has a longtime connection to the Schomburg Center and the New York Public Library, which in 2017 named its 115th Street branch after him.
"It is with great honor that I can announce Harry Belafonte's return home to Harlem," said Schomburg Center director Kevin Young. "This collection testifies to Belafonte's unprecedented, over seventy-year public journey across black life and American life as a whole, starting with his time in the American Negro Theatre, which began in the basement of the Schomburg Center....Belafonte's range is on view in this previously unseen material, from musician to movie producer, actor, to activist. His massive collection of clippings, music, and letters provides a great source to educate people of all ages about the importance of black life and its cultural contributions to American history — from the U.S. civil rights movement, the global human rights struggle, popular music, the history of African-American theater, television, and cinema, and American entertainment. As the New York Public Library celebrates its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary and the Schomburg Center marks its ninety-fifth, the addition of Belafonte's materials will help to continue the enrichment and education of the community for generations to come."
"The Schomburg library in Harlem is one of the greatest gifts our city has bestowed on our community," said Belafonte, who recently celebrated his ninety-third birthday. "It is deeply moving that this destination so critical to my life and well-being, from the days of my youth until now, should be the repository for much of my life's work. I am honored."
(Photo credit: David Shankbone)